Johns Hopkins University Hackathon: A “Majestic” Win for University of Maryland Students

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In the world of competitive student-based hackathons, the Johns Hopkins University Hackathon stands as a pinnacle of innovation. The yearly event is a 36-hour competition where about 300 students work to solve real world problems with their coding technology. This year, the spotlight was on a dynamic duo: Ryan Phillip, a mechanical engineering student at the University of Maryland (UMD), and University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) computer science student Zavier Howard. Together the two emerged as the Hackathon grand champions with their project named, “Majestic Signs.”

“The hackathon provided us with the opportunity to showcase our skills, creativity, and teamwork,” said Phillip.

“Majestic Signs” started off as an idea for an entertaining game. However, with innovative thinking, Phillip and Howard turned their project into a fun way to ease discomfort and promote hand flexibility for arthritis patients. The combat-based game has players use specific hand motions and stretches to advance through the game. The game features a two-player mode, where to participants can battle each other, or a single player version where the human user battles an artificial intelligence opponent. As the players get better at the game, the hand signals become progressively more difficult.

"Throughout the competition, we faced a series of challenges, pushing our boundaries and our ability to come up with innovative solutions."

Ryan Phillip

“The idea to use hand signs to launch magic attacks was inspired by one of my favorite shows, Jujutsu Kaisen, but Ryan had the awesome idea to involve certain stretches that would help people with arthritis,” said Howard.

Phillip and Howard built the game using Python and Unity programming that divided a user’s hand into 21 vertices to determine different hand signals and which fingers are bent. Though, the creation of “Majestic Signs” didn’t come without challenges. The team worked through seemingly endless conditions to get the system to recognize specific hand motions. Additionally, they couldn’t keep every aspect of the game in order to make the 36-hour time crunch. Thankfully, they got to keep all of the other magical components through their use of clever coding.

“Throughout the competition, we faced a series of challenges, pushing our boundaries and our ability to come up with innovative solutions,” explained Phillip. “It was a fantastic learning experience, and we were able to collaborate with some of the brightest minds in our field.”

The team presented their game in front of over 100 participants to win first place overall. For their first-place win, Phillip and Howard were awarded the Jimmy Shi Memorial Prize and $1024. They hope that their victory will shine a light on the spirit of innovation among UMD students.

Published October 17, 2023